Most people engage in a little retail therapy, but some struggle to keep tabs on spending. If you’ve got boxes piling up on your doorstep, can’t focus on work because you’re busy searching for online sales or are hiding your online purchases from loved ones, you might be struggling with an online shopping addiction.
Shopping addiction might seem like an exaggerated term, but it’s a very real problem that can wreak havoc on your personal, professional and financial life. Officially called “oniomania,” shopping addiction refers to a compulsive desire to shop. The addiction presents itself as a preoccupation with buying and shopping despite the harmful consequences. Like other addicts, people with this condition experience great highs and lows, as well as feelings of stress, anger, depression, disappointment and guilt.
In the last decade, the rise of online shopping, flash sale sites, one-click purchasing and targeted online advertising has only compounded the problem. According to a survey by CreditDonkey.com, 36.7 percent of respondents said they have suffered feelings of guilt or shame after shopping, while more than 20 percent have hid purchases from loved ones.
The good news is that people with shopping addictions don’t have to suffer in silence. Here are some concrete steps you can take to curb an online shopping habit that is out of control.
1. Delete subscriptions to internet shopping sites.
When you get a promotional email, don’t trash it — that won’t stop these messages from showing up in your inbox. Instead, look for the unsubscribe link at the bottom of the email.
“Out of sight, out of mind,” said Dr. Gretchen Kubacky, a psychologist from Los Angeles.
If you don’t want to spend time unsubscribing from each email list, you can unsubscribe from them in bulk with a free service like Unroll.me. The site shows you a list of all the emails you subscribe to, and you can choose which ones you don’t want. It’s an easy way to unclutter your inbox fast.
Why it works: Kubacky says this trick works because the brain focuses on what is in front of it.
“If you don’t see those e-mails, you won’t have a heightened awareness of what you’re missing,” she said. “Nor will you be triggered to shop elsewhere.”
2. Get rid of all your shopping and retail apps.
Shopping apps are dangerous for all consumers, not just shopping addicts. Shopping from the comfort of your phone makes it easy to give in to the impulse to buy — especially if the apps constantly send you push notifications when items go on sale.
Instead of checking the shopping apps when you need something to do, Kubacky recommends other sources of novelty, like games, real-life social relationships or hobbies. You might also want to delete apps that have a lot of shopping ads, such as Facebook and Pinterest.
Why it works: “Apps make it too easy to shop when you’re bored,” said Kubacky. “The mind likes novelty, and shopping provides that quite neatly.”
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3. Get an accountability buddy.
It can be tough to reveal your struggles to friends and family, but having a team of people to support you is key to beating an online shopping addiction.
“Having to account to someone else for what you spent, what you bought, etc. is sobering,” said Kubacky. “Choose someone you trust, of course.”
Your accountability buddies can help you in a variety of ways. Along with giving them access to your online bank account so they can monitor your spending, you can have them change the passwords to your online accounts. That way, you can’t order anything without their “permission.” Or maybe they are just the people you call when you need support and guidance. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, so try a few things and see what sticks.
Why it works: Many addicts try to hide their behavior, so having an accountability buddy can help keep you honest.
Kubacky said, “Much like sharing your data on MyFitnessPal keeps you from sneaking in one of those two-bite brownies, your friends can effectively shame you into shopping less.”
4. Cut up your credit cards.
It’s hard to fuel an online shopping addiction or any kind of spending problem when you don’t have a credit card.
“Any shopping addiction — online or in store — can be addressed by this method of reducing funding sources by simply cutting up or canceling your credit cards,” said April Masini, a relationship expert and author.
Along with cutting up your cards, you should delete any payment info you have stored in your computer and phone. So, even if you fill up your cart with a bunch of items and hit the checkout, the payment info won’t get pre-filled. As a result, you won’t be able to click and buy as easily.
Once your credit cards are out of commission, start paying for everything with cash until you get a handle on your shopping habits. You can try the “envelope system,” which has been around for decades. All you have to do is assign an envelope to each line item in your budget and put enough cash in it to last until your next payday or the end of the month. When the envelope is empty, you can’t spend any more.
Why it works: Shopping addict or not, getting rid of your credit cards helps control all kinds of spending. Paying for everything with cash keeps you connected to how much money you are actually spending. Plus, you can’t use cash online.
“If you can’t pay for it, you can’t buy it, and without any credit cards, online shopping addiction will abate,” said Masini.
5. Recognize your problem.
“Many addicts don’t realize that they have a problem, and shopping doesn’t involve a substance like alcohol or illegal drugs, so it’s very easy to deny the addiction,” said Masini. “However… if you’re running out of money, running up debt and your delivery person knows you by name because you’ve had so many online shopping deliveries, consider that you have a problem.”
Take some time to reflect on how you feel while you shop. Are there emotional triggers that prompt you to buy? Common feelings that fan the flames of a shopping addiction include anxiety, depression, anger and loneliness. Once you understand those feelings, you can focus on ways to cope with them that don’t include shopping.
Why it works: Admitting you have a problem is the first step in the recovery process for all addictions. You won’t be able to move forward and work on the issue if you can’t accept that there’s a problem in the first place.
6. Cut yourself off from electronics at night.
According to Kubacky, the evening is a key time when people are often home alone, bored and restless.
“Add in a glass of wine, and you’ve got relaxed inhibition,” she said. “No surfing the internet while drinking or doing anything else that impairs your judgement.”
You should also take stock of other temptations that inhibit your judgement. If browsing flash sale sites or bidding on eBay gets your adrenaline pumping, then don’t visit those sites. You can also try using a service like Optenet PC to keep you from accessing all shopping websites. Simply choose which kind of sites you want to avoid and have a friend set the password so you can’t disable it.
Why it works: If you want to beat an addiction, you need to keep a clear head.
“Your inhibitions will be lower at night or when you’re partying. You are keeping yourself safer by setting some boundaries,” said Kubacky.
7. Attend Debtors Anonymous (DA) meetings.
If you’re still struggling with a shopping addiction, there is help out there. Debtors Anonymous (DA) is a 12-step program for people dealing with debt and other financial issues.
“Get a sponsor and do the work,” said Kubacky. “Meetings are a place to be when you want to be shopping.”
Like other addictions, it’s critical to surround yourself with people who can relate to your experience and provide you with guidance when you need it. Support groups like DA will also give you the opportunity to help others, which keeps you accountable for your own actions.
Why it works: Kubacky said, “You will find support — names and phone numbers of people who will take your call 24/7 when you’re jonesing for a fix of internet shopping.”
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